Ernie Gets a Linux Upgrade

One of my old PCs sitting in the basement had Windows 98 on it. The computer was named Ernie by my daughter many years ago. (The taller computer we had at the time received the name Bert, as in Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.) The OS seemed to be dieing a slow death as it experienced the blue screen of death on a regular basis. I suspected that the hardware was OK and the software was suffering from entropy. It seemed wrong to re-install Win98 in the year 2008, so I considered other alternatives.

For quite some time, I have been wanting to bring up a Linux machine. Why? Bragging rights, I suppose. Feed the inner geek. Real men run Linux, you know. (Masochists run Windows and wimps run Macs….just kidding.) I was also curious about how friendly and useful the OS would be. The Linux folklore also claims that it will run on anemic PCs without any problem. (I definitely didn’t want to install Vista on this old PC.) Back a few decades, I spent quite a bit of time on HP Unix computers and I used to be able to grep with the best of them. More recently our herd of computers have been running operating systems from Microsoft.

It seems that the Ubuntu release of Linux was getting positive reviews, so I chose it as the upgrade for Ernie. I downloaded the latest release and created an install CD. This first attempt to install linux failed, apparently because the PC only has about 200 Megs of memory. The download page said to use the “alternate” version of the release to deal with limited memory. I downloaded that version and the install progressed quite nicely.

During the install process, the software tried to find a network connection, which was unplugged at the time so it told me I could deal with that later. After the install, the system rebooted and ran just fine. The graphical user interface was familiar enough that I could just start using it without referring to the documentation. (We don’t need no stinkin’ manual.)

At this point, I am feeling quite confident, so I connected up the network (Ethernet to DSL at our house). The computer didn’t see the network and I could not find any way to reconfigure it. At this point, I broke down and checked the documentation, expecting to find a friendly little section for people that didn’t have the network plugged in during the installation. No such luck. Eventually, I gave up and re-installed the entire OS with the ethernet cable connected. Although that seems a bit extreme, it did take care of the problem.

Here I am, writing this blog post using Ernie with a new set of brains. (Ernie, not me.) Good old Firefox was automatically installed and is ready to go without any additional effort. Similarly, the OpenOffice suite is installed as part of the Ubuntu release. Not bad, not bad at all.

As described, I did have a few bumps in the road on the installation but nothing too dramatic. My experience with various versions of Windows is not any better. The machine does seem to run kind of slow, in terms of loading applications and responding to GUI changes. I suspect this is due to the limited PC memory. It probably runs about as fast as the Win98, though. I was just expecting better from lean-and-mean linux.

73, Bob K0NR

  1. #1 by Kenneth Finnegan on 21 August 2008 - 12:26 am

    Ah yeah. Many a time I’ve had to reinstall because I forgot to have the CAT5 cable plugged in. There should be some command to reauto config it, most likely “dpkg-reconfigure packagename”, whatever package it is… if anyone cares…

    For something under 256MB, in theory xubuntu should perform better in some respects, and you can look into it if you’d like. It bugs me too much because I run Ubuntu proper on the rest on my boxes so the tiny differences bug me. In the end I forced myself to become comfortable enough using the terminal and turned off the graphical display all together (ctrl-alt-[1-6], the GUI is ctrl-alt-7, to turn on or off the GUI, either disable it in the services box under administration, or in a terminal: “sudo /etc/init.d/gdm start” or stop, or restart. This is from memory, so no warranty expressed or implied.)

    FYI: found your blog through Google Reader “Discover” feature, in case you’re wondering…

    Kenneth Finnegan – KI6RLA
    Silicon Valley, CA

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